Day: Monday, 19th September 2016
Miles: 2312.0 – 2344.5 (32.5)
Remote Camp 2312.0 – Mike Urich Hut 2344.5
I think that today I finally earned my miserable weather stripes. I have experienced 1.5 days (yes, days) of rain thus far on the PCT after nearly 4 months of hiking (i.e. I have been spoiled!) and knowing that nobody likes a moaner, I had resolved to get after it today and not use it as an excuse for low miles or excess emotions. I awoke to rain and it was reasonably clear that any part of today that would not include omnipresent rainfall would be through sheer good fortune, and fleeting at best. The other group camp alongside us, were leaving camp by the time EnergizerBunny and I awoke, but we willed each other on and despite a little loathsome morning moaning, had decamped a little before 8AM. The following sight of umbrella’d hikers (Schrocket, Blue, Sprinkles and Homegrown) approaching our camp gave me quite the kick at daybreak I must admit!
It was only a light rain initially and we set some good progress early on, catching up to the umbrella-crew. Early in the morning we also met FlyBy, and he chose to accompany us, sharing some disaster-camp stories of a distinctly soggy nights sleep he shared with Tarzan. The rain was persistent and became heavy at times, so I decided to don my trusty United Airlines Baggage Bag as a poncho once again. It worked a treat, if somewhat figure-hugging!
Walking through the valleys and troughs this morning was actually quite pleasant, and the many open sections Im sure would afford amazing views if only the cloud level was a little higher. Still, amazing drifting clouds periodically provided spectacles of deep valleys below, and the terrain really was quite dramatic on both sides when we could see it. Most of the day was spent in or around EnergizerBunny and FlyBy, and it was good to have some camaraderie in the dripping misery!
Enjoying the dampness also, was the abundant plants and funghi amongst the trees. Washington has been really interesting in the variety of mushrooms and funghi amongst the undergrowth. Some edible, most a little threatening to this novice.
With water so abundant, there really was no hugely compelling reason to carry a large amount of water, so my load was light and early day mileage was looking good as I stopped for a break by a pleasant lake, once again cloud drifting across periodically, and all but obscuring the enormous rocky peak above.
Nearing lunchtime, and finally I reached Chinook Pass. The NPS has erected a large walkway structure over the highway with an entrance sign approaching from the east, and I was excited to see some further references to Mt.Rainier National Park, if only a little sad that I could not see beyond my nose for most of the day.
Descending to the National Forest/National Park carpark and rest area by the pass, and there really was only one place for us to enjoy a sheltered lunch, the public bathrooms! I think we’ve probably not stooped this low on the PCT yet, but the weather really was miserable beyond words, and the bathroom provided a welcome respite from the downpour. EnergizerBunny, FlyBy and myself settled in for a gracious lunch of PB and J wraps in glorious surroundings.
A little afterwards, the umbrella crew arrived, laughed at us in our little restroom-cafe, only to then realize there was no alternative for shelter, and promptly took up residence in the toilet block next door! Ain’t no shame in that!
Just as in this morning, leaving the poo-block was tough but had to be done. We set off towards the next climb out of Chinook Pass, and quickly rose abovbe the highway to a fleeting glimpse of the valley below (along with our little rest stop). As we rose higher, the rain gave way to sleep, and then finally it happened, our first snowfall on the trail. It was with some mixed emotions that I hiked through the thick sleet and snow. On one level I was enjoying the day and had completely overcome my hatred of wet-hiking. On the other hand I wondered if this snow might finally suggest that my schedule delays had pushed me later into September than might be optimal. Perhaps a bigger snow might end all of this before Canada. As always, the mental aspects of the trail feed themselves into a frenzy in such times. It was great to have FlyBy and EnergzierBunny to keep the conversation going, and to boost spirits!
As we hiked beyond the first small pass north and overhead Chinook Pass, the snow relented and at times even gave rise to a tantalizing glimpse of the sun shining on distant clouds and mountain tops. As the trail began a steady rise around one valley, I was afforded an incredible view of Crystal Mountain Ski Area, one of the larger ski areas in Washington, and a place I had skied in the previous winter season. It was a really fun resort and I remember back in March, looking to these hills and wondering whether I’d make it this far. The PCT was planned out by then, but whether the body would be able to match up to the plan was a big unknown at that point. It was immensely fulfilling to gaze down the deep valley and recognize a familiar place!
As the miles passed, and the trail intermittantly dropped into the trees and ascended back above bluffs, I was eventually afforded a glimpse of what I missed earlier, the enormous silhouette of Mt.Rainier once again set against a beautiful sky. I was gutted that this long day had involved spending so much time in close proximity to the mountain, but with scarcely a glimpse of what lay there. I pondered that at some point I must hike this section again, and see what I missed.
FlyBy and EnergizerBunny and myself keep walking and walking. At this point night had fallen and we had resolved that the only way to finish up todays mammoth walk, was to aim for the Mike Urich hut, a stretch goal for sure, but potentially a place for shelter. Rumors of a warm fire and maybe even some welcoming hut-dwellers were rife along the trail with some Southbounders that we passed. As we passed into the Norse Peak Wilderness, the idea became more of a motivational campaign and an idea to help us push onwards, than anything else. We went later and later, the rain never relenting. At this point we were not just soaked through. Rain drops followed a line from forehead to toes. Our gear permeable to the elements, and impossible to seal. Even my ad-hoc poncho was useless, regardless of my wet gear underneath!
It was around 10:30PM when we finally reached the hut. Sounds and lights in the forest announced that lots of people were about this space, and it was surreal after our long march, to finally see lights. We were cold, shivering, drenched to the skin. Our gear was soaked through our packs and we were hungry and tired. I’m not sure any other day on the trail could match this thus far. Human will can be an interesting phenomena, when motivated by a single goal, the dream of a dry warm space, can push you to go for as long as this under really awful conditions!
Arriving to the hut and it was a frenetic scene of exhausted hikers asleep in the corners, whilst a gathering of sorts was going on at the central table. A roaring fire was warming everyone up, and scarcely the hint of the days misery was visible (unless you were trying to sleep). I cooked some dinner whilst joining in some of the festivities. Exhausted but happy to be drying out. Later, I made myself a little space in one corner of the sparcely available floor space. As as I fell asleep in the cosy hut, I thanked my lucky stars for shelter and the simple pleasure of being dry.